Center of Excellence in Nanobiomaterials Derived from Biorenewable and Waste Resources was established at Tuskegee University (TU) with the funding from NSF for a period of five years starting October 2011. Collaborators from within the USA include Auburn University (AU), Cornell University (CU), the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and several industry and national laboratories. International collaboration is built upon the existing relationships with researchers from Brazil and India. The research focus areas of the proposed center include: (a) synthesis of plant based nanofibers through electrospinning and forcespinning™ methods; (b) production of bacterial cellulose fibers from soy waste products; (c) synthesis of nanoparticles from biodegradable sources such as egg shells and their use as nano-fillers in advanced composites; (d) synthesis of biopolymers; (e) development and characterization of advanced green nanocomposites using these materials with natural fibers; and (f) product design, prototyping and commercial feasibility studies. These efforts are being carried out through three subprojects; 1) Synthesis and characterization of nanobiomaterials, 2) Synthesis and characterization of biopolymers and nanobiocomposites, and 3) Processing, performance evaluation and technology transition of green nanobiocomposites to products. The materials developed will provide an alternative to the current generation of high performance ‘advanced’ composites materials which use thermoset polymers and man-made fibers like glass, carbon and Kevlar®. Further, these polymers are derived from petroleum, an expensive and scarce commodity, and composites are not biodegradable.
The intellectual merits of this grant lie in the fact that the development of biodegradable nanofibers, nanoparticles, nanobiopolymers and their characterization, processing and characterization of advanced green composites will provide significant knowledge that can be used to develop new applications in automotive and building industries. Work is being carried out on the four campuses in close collaborations. At Tuskegee University, efforts are focused on processing and characterizing natural fiber reinforced composites using bio-based resin systems. Currently flax, kenaf and jute fibers are being considered. Work is being carried out to extract cellulose from kenaf, flax, and cotton and wheat plants. An electrospinning system has been setup to prepare nanofibers from polymer solutions. Synthesis of CaCO3 nanoparticles from egg-shells is in progress. At Auburn University (AU), research is focused on the synthesis of biopolymers from fatty acids derived from Tung and linseed oil. Students from AU and TU collaborate on the cure kinetics of polymeric systems. University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) research is investigating the effects of carbonization temperatures on the pore structures of activated carbons derived from eggshells as well as carbonized sandwich composite chars for filter applications. Another work is focusing on hemp, bamboo and flax fibers to analyze critical fiber length, content and minimize fiber breakage at each stage of processing to provide superior mechanical and dynamic mechanical properties for interior automotive interior component. In addition, algae from local ponds are being used for making powder and fibers for use as fillers in thermoplastic composites for automotive applications. The developments thus far suggest that the materials are useful for filtration applications and relationships have been developed with Neenah Paper product in Atlanta and Germany to use ball milled nano particles produced from egg shells and natural fibers into filter products. The work in natural fiber compounding is extended to produce a duct screen for a tractor in collaboration with MacDon company. Cornell University (CU) has started a new process for purification of neem protein from seedcake and further developed it into green resin from Neem seed protein for composites. Neem seedcakes are produced in large quantities and much of it goes as waste at present. This resin may be also used as an adhesive. They have used this resin with nano- and micro-fibrillated cellulose (MFC) to fabricate nanocomposites with good properties. This resin and nanocomposite can be used in place of petroleum based plastics. In another development CaCO3 nanoparticles have been used to make nanocomposites. The CaCO3 nanoparticles were developed at Tuskegee University from waste egg shells. Work has been initiated to extract useful engineering material from mango seeds.
There has been significant research achievement which has been disseminated to larger technical community through publications in journals and presentations at conferences. Some of the work carried out through this grant are presented to K-12 students, teachers, community and local and state legislatures during Science and technology open-house activities held during early Spring semester each year with nearly 350 participants. One of the features of this activity is poster presentation by high school through PhD students. All the graduate students from TU, AU and UAB who are part of this grant presented posters. TU and UAB jointly hosted Alabama Composites Conference in Summer 2013 which was a major success with significant participation from industry. There was a total of 450 participants, 300+ from industry, 3 workshops (including one on Green Composites, Sustainability and Recycling), 45 exhibitors, 45 student posters from 10 universities, 30 high school students sponsored, 75 presentations. PIs and Co- PIs from TU and UAB made presentations at this meeting. At Tuskegee University, the College of Engineering, offered summer pre-college programs-Minority Introduction To Engineering (MITE) and Freshman Accelerated Start- up and Training for Retention in Engineering Curricula (FASTREC) to high school students completing 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, respectively, to prepare and motivate them to choose and enter college programs in engineering. MITE is offered to high school students completing 10th and 11th grades. FASTREC is offered to students who have graduated from high school. These two programs are co-sponsored by NSF-CREST. In addition, high school students work on bio composites research for 6-8 weeks in summer. They are mentored by PhD students. UAB faculty and students are involved in several broader impact activities. These include: composite manufacturing workshop for high school students, projects feature at technical meetings, virtual training workshops.
Tuskegee University and its partners have developed collaborative arrangements with various academic intuitions, national labs and industry for support of research and educational programs of the proposed Center.